Stevia is a cute herb and an excellent alternative to sugar.
Simple Stevia facts
Name – Stevia rebaudiana
Family – Asteraceae
Type – perennial
Flowering – summer
Foliage – evergreen
Height – 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary
Grown either indoors or outside, it is best associated to herbs and spices.
Stevia appears today as an ingredient in various cosmetics and even some medicines as a flavor enhancer.
Stevia rabaudiana is a tropical plant which needs an environment the closest possible to its natural environment, whether it is planted in the open air or in pots: heat and moisture.
Easy to grow and to care for, its leaves are used for their high sweetening capabilities and their low caloric content.
Growing stevia directly in the ground
First of all, note that stevia is vulnerable to temperatures below 40°F (5°C) and consequently is only a perennial in relatively hot lands.
In oceanic or Mediterranean climates it’s perfectly possible to try growing stevia, even though there is a risk of seeing the plant wither when freezing temperatures occur.
> Most often, stevia planted in the ground under temperate latitudes is grown as an annual.
> Choose a mostly sunny spot.
> Water regularly in case of prolonged dry spells or heat waves.
Growing stevia in pots
It is recommended in temperate climates to grow stevia in pots, so that it may be protected from cold and frost in winter.
- Choose a good-sized container.
- Place at the bottom of it a bed of gravel or clay beads to ensure drainage.
- Plant your stevia in a good soil mix.
- Water as soon as the soil is dry.
The advantage of growing stevia in a pot is that it can be brought inside when the cold weather sets in.
- Keep your stevia plant in a well-lighted area.
- Limit watering during the winter if the room is not so warm.
Caring for stevia in winter
If you have opted for growing your stevia outside, the leaves will probably wither as soon as the first cold days hit.
- At that moment, completely cut all the leaves of the stevia.
- Protect the base with a good layer of dried leaf mulch and hope it doesn’t freeze.
It is very easy to multiply stevia, either through cuttings, layering, or seeding.
- Sowing the seeds is done just after harvesting them, at a temperature of about 70°F (20°C).
- For cuttings, snip 4 inch (10 cm) sections from several longer stems, and plant them in nursery pots filled with good soil mix.
- For layering, bury a rather longer stem in a nursery pot filled with good soil mix and wait for the plant to produce new roots.
Harvesting stevia sugar
Harvest your stevia leaves when your needs arise and as soon as they have reached their adult size.
- This is possible both when it is grown in indoor pots or outside in the ground.
If you grow your stevia as if it was an annual, favor harvesting all the leaves at once at the end of the summer.
- Dry your stevia harvest in the sun.
- Grind it to make a powder from it.
- Store it away from moisture as long as you wish.
Stevia health benefits and therapeutic value
- Stevia, excellent for sugar-restricted diet
With zero calories, it doesn’t induce weight gain (but what it is eaten together with might, of course).
It is recommended for diabetes diets. Indeed, for this type of patients it doesn’t lead to an increase in glycemic index. Stevia has hypoglycemic properties.
- Stevia, tooth health booster
Stevia cares for your teeth. It hinders bacterial growth on teeth, and thus helps avoid cavities.
Stevia contributes to regulating blood pressure, thanks to the potassium it contains. As such, it can help reduce incidence of cardiovascular diseases.
Stevia contains valuable minerals: calcium for bone and tooth growth and maintenance, zinc to reinforce the immune system, sodium to regulate fluid exchanges, and chlorophyll.
Drunk in the form of tea, its leaves have diuretic properties.
Stevia is a source of anti-oxidants, that neutralize free radicals that attack body cells. Free radicals are involved in developing cancers and illnesses.
Stevia could even have anti-diarrheal and anti-inflammatory properties.
Earlier uses of stevia include using leaves to dress wounds, as it speeds up wound healing.
- Contraindication for stevia
Ingesting stevia is not recommended to pregnant or nursing women.
Hypoglycemic and hypotensive properties of stevia must be considered when undergoing treatment for diabetes and blood pressure.
Stevia in the kitchen
Stevia can be found as a white or green powder, dried leaves, or syrups and is even included in certain soft drinks.
It is impossible to ignore the strong sweetening capabilities of stevia. Stevia extracts are up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose!
Stevia leaves have a sweetening power that is 30 times higher that sugar obtained from red beets.
Dosage: 1 teaspoon of green stevia powder is equivalent to 3.5 oz (100 g) of sugar.
This herb perfectly feels at home in your kitchen, to sweeten your teas, infusions, dishes, yogurts, smoothies, cakes and other desserts.
Stevia leaves bring on a slight taste of licorice.
- Try baking stevia meringues.
However, some have criticized stevia for being difficult to combine with other foods.
For example, it is impossible to make caramel with stevia sweetener.
- Stevia, the beauty tip
Stevia has also entered the world of cosmetics.
Its leaves are known to soften and smooth skin, and reduce wrinkles. Stevia leaves also have antibacterial properties that are good for the skin.
Stevia extracts are often combined to clay. Stevia and clay face mask: mix 1 egg yolk with a teaspoon of cottage cheese and of white clay, and add two pinches of powdered stevia. Apply preparation to face. Let it work for 20 minutes and rinse off.
Learn more about stevia
This herb originated in South America, mainly Paraguay and Brazil. It has been used by native Indians for many years. They called it “sweet plant”. They used it to flavor their infusions or as medicine.
At the beginning of the XXth century, stevia was grown commercially and slowly penetrated the international market. Towards the middle of the XXth century, the Japanese mastered its cultivation.
Today, stevia is grown in Brazil, Japan, and also China. It has become an unavoidable sweetener for our cooking, without any calories.
Smart tip about stevia
- How should the sugar be extracted?
Once harvested, stevia leaves must be dried in the sun. They must then be powdered with a grinder or mortar and pestle. Keep the powder in a dry storage.
- Did you know?
As a food additive, only stevia extracts are authorized as sweeteners. The plant and leaves themselves are not.
This approval as food additive is very recent, since it only goes back to 2009.
- Leaves have a sweetening power 30 times higher than that of red beet sugar.
- Stevia extracts are up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.
A 100% natural sweetener, stevia has the added advantage of not adding any calories to meals when you use it!